Here’s a name and a mantra to remember: Francesco Lafranconi is a mixologist and spirits educator who says, holding a Maui Negroni cocktail: “we’re not drinking, we’re learning!”
Francesco, was educating me, and other members of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association, at our annual conference in Hawaii recently. And while we were graduating our way to the bottom of the cocktail glass, Francesco, a tall, slim, uber cool Lecchesi (he hails from Lecco in north west Italy), resplendent in powder blue and apricot, was explaining the resurgence in classic cocktails from the 1800s to the 1950s.
Explaining the use of spices, aromatics and bitters, Francecso describes today’s mixology as “more science and cooking technique” with distilleries still jealously guarding the secret formulas that were originally homeopathic remedies.
So this is sounding even better – not only are we getting educated but we’re getting healthy at the same time.
And among the gems of learning is that since the 15th century they have been extracting alcoholic flavours from ginger, gentian, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, even coriander and artichoke. And we can thank Italian-born French Queen Catherine de Medici who took the idea from Italy to France suggesting it was the “elisir di lunga vita” (the elixir of life – cheers to that!).
Francesco reaches for a favourite aperitif, Aperol, derived from bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and quinine.
He says it is designed to help create the apetite, ” increasing salivation through stimulation of gastric acids…triggered by compounds on the palate”. While we were salivating he offers a recipe for the increasingly popular Spritz: 3 oz Prosecco (“the real prosecco is made in Veneto from the glera grape “), 1 oz club soda, 1 oz Aperol, a slice of orange and ice cubes.
He offers a new take on the classic Negroni, which originated in 1919 in Florence as Campari and vermouth on the rocks with a little gin. He keeps the Campari (1 oz) but substitutes 1 oz of Cocci Americano ( a vermouth made from moscato, brandy, gentian, quinine, orange peel and herbs), and 1 oz of Ciroc coconut vodka.
As we watched the Maui sun slide from view at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, Francesco, consultant mixologist to the resort, recreates the subtle pinks and oranges of sundown in a glass.
He raises his Maui Negroni in salute: “to Italian flavour with Hawaiian spirit”.